Thursday, 11 March 2010

5 Twitter Best Practice Tips for In-house Counsel

In my previous post 5 Reasons for In-house Counsel to use Twitter I encourage in-house lawyers to embrace Twitter. Now here’s some best practice advice on making the most of Twitter specifically for in-house counsel:

1. By its nature, Twitter is a personable and informal means of communication, but be careful not to let your professional standards drop. This is particularly important if your Twitter profile identifies you as a lawyer and more so if it identifies the link to your employing company. For instance, whereas a lawyer for a private practice firm might be able to comfortably tweet “worked on defence to a fraud case today” and the lawyer/client privilege is not necessarily breached; but tweeting about your exposure to a fraud case as an in-house lawyer might not be the best PR you could be giving to your company.

2. On Twitter you represent yourself, your legal skills and profession and your employer. How do you balance these 3 potentially conflicting interests? Personally, I manage this risk by running two separate Twitter accounts: one protected account for my personal Twitter feed and a public account for my @in_house_lawyer tweets which I keep strictly professional. (Does this make me a Twitzophrenic?). Other users of Twitter merge their personal and professional tweets side by side. Twitter is a flexible tool, so experiment to find the best way for you of balancing your individualism and professionalism.

3. Twitter is a great information resource, yes. But, as a lawyer, rely on it with caution. No matter how authoritative your fellow Twitterers appear, Twitter is not a source of legal authority. Your information stream is limited to the people whom you follow, their quality of resource, accuracy and currency and also their “take” on a piece of information. Not to mention disseminating all of that into just 140 characters.

4. Connected with the previous point, very often you will see a tantalising tweet luring you to click on a link to a helpful article – you review the full article and then see the date at the bottom, its 6 months old! Twitter prides itself on being “real time” and as such there is an expectation of currency of information to be available on Twitter, and largely that is true, but that doesn’t always manifest itself in tweets and re-tweets of information sources. Top tip: when clicking on a link to a third party PDF or article the first thing you should do is check the date of that piece of information, not forgetting the jurisdiction it relates to (Twitter is a worldwide information stream).

Also beware the tweeters who post links to sites which appear to contain helpful information which is bang up-to-date, but which you then have to pay to download that information. These types of tweets are few and far between, but just one to watch out for.

5. To make the most of Twitter as a networking tool and information resource you need to mange who you follow with some regularity. Don’t feel compelled to follow back everyone who follows you, likewise don’t be offended if someone you follow doesn’t follow you back. Everyone uses twitter differently. The value of Twitter as an information resource for you lessens if your information stream becomes diluted with irrelevant or unhelpful information. Refresh who you follow every once so that you don’t miss out on new Twitter users who it might be mutually beneficial to follow. Having said all of that if a user directs a comment to you, it is Twitter etiqueete (Twitiquette?) to respond, even if you don’t follow that user.

More generally, I recommend reading Twitter’s own best practice tips for general use of Twitter, and The Creation of Twitter Best Practices on Ogilvy PR (an older article (see advice in point 4 above!) but the advice still rings true). I’d love to hear your best practice advice for in-house counsel using Twitter.

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